A few years back, while making my way under the streets of Paris aboard a packed Metro train, I witnessed a light-fingered opportunist start to help himself to the contents of a fellow traveler's backpack. She had no idea that anything was amiss until the alarm was raised by myself and other passengers, much to the annoyance and obvious disappointment of the would-be thief. Needless to say that ever since that episode I've taken to removing my gadget-filled backpack when commuting and holding onto it. Tightly. The successfully-crowdfunded Wolffepack Metro was designed so that commuters can keep their belongings close to their chests or access a bag's contents without having to remove it from the shoulders. Gizmag has had one in for review and spent the last couple of weeks in full orbital swing.
The Wolffepack was developed to tackle an inconvenience experienced by its creator. Father of three David Wolffe started looking at better ways of handling frequent requests to remove things from his backpack when on family trips. He tinkered with a few home-made proof-of-concept prototypes, filed a few patent applications and joined with designers, engineers and manufacturers to launch a Kickstarter funding campaign to bring his ideas to life. The campaign proved successful and his new startup's first two products, the Metro and the Escape, have now been shipped to backers and made available to buy.
The Metro has been designed with the commuter in mind, with compartments for the storage of a laptop, tablet, books, documents and other work-related necessities. The smaller capacity Escape is aimed more at the active traveler, walker or cyclist. Both are centered around the patent-pending expetoSYSTEM, and it was the Metro we were sent for review.
The expetoSYSTEM sees three Dyneema cords attached to the backpack body (one at the top and two at the bottom). These are fed through a rigid carry frame, through a covered locking mechanism and on to a bulbous release handle that magnetically docks in the right shoulder strap. Each cord is reported 15 times stronger than steel and capable of carrying a load of 300 kg (661 lb), though the company recommends carrying no more than 7.5 kg total – beyond that point, the Wolffepack's operation won't be as smooth as advertised (and, of course, the backpack will be really heavy).
"We've done longevity testing on the cords and all the other key components," Wolffe told us. "We've simulated approx. 5 years of typical use in our tests. The cords are still intact and fully functioning even after that use. The cords have a two-part construction which gives them both strength and durability. The core of the cords is Dyneema and gives them the strength to hold 300+ kilograms. These are then wrapped in a 16-plait hard-wearing polyester braid jacket, which makes them last. Lastly, the cords are produced by a high quality manufacturer with high intensity use in mind."
The ergonomic handle sports a red plunger button which is pushed down and combined with a downward tug of the handle to release the cord lock. As the handle is raised toward the shoulder, the bag is lowered behind. When the handle comes to rest at the locking mechanism's fabric cover to the top of the support frame, the bag can be grabbed by its top handle and brought to the front to be rummaged through for needed items, held onto while commuting or attached to the webbing on each Airmesh shoulder strap using G-hooked short straps (which leaves both hands free).
Okay, that may all look quite complicated, but we found operation to be very simple indeed, and after a very short while became second nature.
The trio of cords in this mode could arguably be something of a target for frustrated opportunist thieves unable to stealthily help themselves to a Metro bag's contents (or even fellow commuters with a mischievous eye), but Dyneema can be a tough nut to crack. The material has found use in body armor and cut-resistant gloves and Wolffe confirmed that it would be "difficult to slash through the cords with a knife because they have a thick polyester jacket, and then the Dyneema core, and there are three cords to be cut to get it free, so pretty deterrent to a quick theft."
Raising the bag to the support frame again is just a matter of grabbing the handle at the top of the right shoulder strap and pulling down briskly until the bag stops abruptly and locks into place, which, depending on the force of the tug, can feel like a light tap on the shoulders or a hefty slap on the back. However, users don't need to worry too much about raising a heavy bag with just one Herculean effort as the mechanism won't allow a partial lift to roll back, meaning the bag can be raised in easy stages.
Though the trapeze technology that culminates in the pull handle rides over the right shoulder, in the interests of completeness we switched to Southpaw guise during the review and can confirm that lefties should be able to get to grips with the system without too much trouble.
The Metro bag has two main compartments, each sporting a plush-looking bright red microfiber-lined interior with black bordering. The rear-most has two front-padded sleeves able to comfortably take a 15-in laptop in one (though we did manage to squeeze in a 15.6 in notebook, just) and a 10-in tablet in the other. There's also a zippered pocket and two holders for peripherals or smart devices. The front compartment has a non-padded sleeve for document storage, a zippered pocket, holders for business cards and pens, and a key hook. There's a secondary compartment at the front bottom, which is handy for storing quick access items like travel passes or street maps, and a bottle or umbrella holder to the side.
The whole shebang is capable of stowing away 22 liters' worth of modern commute necessities, and we certainly didn't find ourselves wanting in the storage space department. Chunky photographic gear like a DSLR and various lenses (tools of the trade, so to speak) did prove to be a bit of a tight squeeze, but the Metro isn't designed for such things. Wolffe revealed to us that a photography-specific model is already on the drawing board for future development.
Elsewhere, the Metro boasts an Airflow system on the frame that's designed to keep the user's back cooler, which did result in less sweaty back syndrome than with the Belkin business bag we normally use. Water-resistant, ballistic polyester exterior textiles, Kevlar and carbon fiber add a rugged element to the design, and a cool example of the company's attention to the smallest of details is the snap-shut tidies that put an end to post-adjustment dangling straps.
Where some laptop bags have zip ends with loops for padlocked security, the Wolffepack Metro does not. "We did consider lock loops on the zipper-pulls in the design stage," said Wolffe. "We decided that it would be more elegant and just as functional to have a zipper pull with a larger than average 'hole' in it that allows you to put a small padlock through it. That’s what the Wolffepack zipper-pulls allow you to do."
The bottom line
The Wolffepack Metro is well made and stylish, and designed to take modern life's bumps and thumps on the chin without complaint. And its makers have taken great care to tick as many "useful" boxes as possible. In daily use, we found a full-to-brimming backpack to be comfortable for the brisk walks to and from the train station and the longer hauls to appointments and meetings.
We readily admit to starting our review with an empty bag, but confidence in the orbital mechanism's capabilities grew with each use until the Metro was soon chock-full of essential gadgetry. Tugging the handle, reaching back and bringing the Wolffepack bag to the front in order to gain access to its insides while out and about proved quicker and easier than having to locate a quiet spot or a break in the pedestrian hustle to completely remove our usual go-to Belkin backpack, tackle its zipper and retrieve the goodies.
The Metro can be suspended from the shoulder straps at the front for two-handed rummaging, too, where the Belkin has to be held in one hand and unzipped and accessed with the other. But it's travel peace of mind where the Wolffepack really earns its stripes.
Commuters lucky enough to find a seat on the train or bus to work can just slip off their backpacks and keep them under close guard. Wolffepack users can do this too, of course, but the shoulder straps stay put and only the bag sits on the lap.
Standing backpackin' passengers can take their chances and leave the bag hanging behind where thieving hands could easily get at the contents unnoticed or put it on a filthy floor, between the legs. The trapeze technology of the Wolffepack allows users to comfortably cradle and protect personal belongings for the duration of the journey.
The ticket price of £99.95 (about US$150) puts the Wolffepack Metro at the higher end of the commuter backpack market, but about on the money for business gadget carriers. We think that it's well worth the outlay.
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